"It's about our love of family, and the work we'll do for them, and the joy they bring us. It's about the irreplaceable, incomparable bond between a man and wife. It's about the united outrage we feel when Americans are murdered. It's about why we fight."
Notice the section in italics (which are my own). This was the National Review’s Katherine Jean Lopez’s take on the new Oliver Stone film, “World Trade Center.” I see and hear such remarks all the time, and I have no problem with these sentiments. On the contrary, they are heartening and all-too rare in the media. Speaking as a military veteran and a person currently working professionally for the Department of Defense, I would go so far as to say such sentiments make me proud to be an American. But not everyone reacts to Lopez’s remark, “… why we fight,” the way I do. In a recent Chicago Sun-Times column, Mark Steyn shares an e-mail sent to Lopez which berated her for equivocating what she does as a magazine editor to what Soldiers do in the field:
“For the record, and unless I am somehow uninformed, I think it fair to state that you do not fight -- you never have and, hopefully, never will have to. You are not a member of any of the branches of the armed forces, nor a reservist. You are not, and I am fairly sure, have never been engaged in a combat situation. Your contribution to this war is limited solely to your ability to exercise the skillset provided by your liberal arts education in the pages of the National Review.”
The reader then goes on to characterize her statement as not merely a slip of the tongue, but an “extraordinarily disrespectful’” remark.
"It does a tremendous disservice to your readers and is extraordinarily disrespectful to the millions of men and women around the world who are in uniform and fighting and dying for their countries."
Mark Steyn then explains, at length, exactly how “wrong-headed” is this remark. Read the article. It is very good, of course. More importantly, it is a crucial part of his (and my, for that matter) much broader narrative: that we are in danger of witnessing the destruction of western civilization at the hands of 12th Century-throwback religious fanatics because we have become “men without chests.”
However, Steyn himself is not a veteran, or at least if he is he has never made mention of it. So in a sense, everything he wrote in his column is going to be rejected out-of-hand by people like the one who wrote the email to Lopez. This is unfortunate, because he makes a critical point: nations, not armies, win wars. Again, read his column. There is nothing substantive that I can add to his arguments.
That said, I have to confess a certain sympathy with emailer above, and there is a lesson which Steyn, Lopez and all the others can learn from this if they can muster the necessary humility. That lesson is simply this: don’t ever forget to honor the men (and in some cases, women) in the sandbox who are fighting and dying for you, and always try and phrase your arguments in such a way that will reflect your cognizance of that.
I want to point out that this is something many of the big-name conservative bloggers and pundits already do very well -- particularly Hugh Hewitt. However, I think Steyn's article revealed a vulnerability in the paradigm shared by many "online warriors," so to speak, who are trying to do their bit to win the war on terror.
Regardless of how valuable what Steyn, Lopez, Hewitt, et al are doing is – and there is no doubt in my mind that it is supremely valuable – the price is being paid by 19- to 25-year old young men who are setting aside their own dreams of a good life to serve in the harshest and most dangerous of conditions. Don’t ever forget that they have families who love them and depend on them, and who live in fear every day of getting that phone call. Don’t ever forget that every American Soldier or Marine who dies means that a family somewhere in American suburbia gets absolutely devastated.
These men are our heroes, our champions -- but war is not a game to the men who fight and die it it. Guard against seeing them as pawns on a chessboard -- no matter how dire the game is as you see it -- or as the faceless automaton superheroes in a video game.
They bleed for this nation … so we don't have to.